Question. What do Bathurst's Ben Chifley and Joe Hockey have in common? Answer. They both were christened Joseph Benedict. Ben was Australia's 16th Prime Minister but following his inability to 'sell' the 2014 budget, Joe can probably take his eye off the top job.
Chifley was born in Bathurst in 1885. The son of a blacksmith he left school at 15 to join the railways and became an engine driver – your real working class Labor man.
Chifley achieved much when he was PM. He came to office after John Curtin’s death (technically after Frank Forde, who was caretaker PM for eight days) in 1945. He beat Menzies at the 1946 election but lost to him in the 1949 election. During his term, Chifley transformed the wartime economy into a successful peacetime one, and introduced many reforms that are still with us today.
Part of his legacy:
- Post-war immigration
- The Snowy Mountains Scheme
- The Commonwealth Employment Service
- Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)
- Free hospital treatment
- Reorganisation of the CSIRO
- Founding the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO)
Chifley died following a heart attack in the Kurrajong Hotel in Canberra, aged 65. Both he and Curtin were lifelong smokers, as many people were in that era.
Chifley had lived apart from his wife for several years and his secretary, Phyllis Donnelly, was with him when he died. You can visit Ben Chifley’s only marital home in Bathurst (10 Busby Street) as it is now a museum and educational centre – more info here.
The night Chifley died, Prime Minister Menzies was attending a ball at Parliament House. When Menzies heard the news, he was saddened and ended the party immediately with this announcement:
“It is my very sorrowful duty during this celebration tonight to tell you that Mr Chifley has died. I don't want to try to talk about him now because, although we were political opponents, he was a friend of mine and yours, and a fine Australian. You will all agree that in the circumstances the festivities should end. It doesn't matter about party politics on an occasion such as this. Oddly enough, in Parliament we get on very well. We sometimes find we have the warmest friendships among people whose politics are not ours. Mr Chifley served this country magnificently for years.”
In those days political parties showed a lot more loyalty to their leaders and a lot more respect to those on the other side of the house.
If you are visiting Bathurst, Rydges Mount Panorama will give you a warm welcome and look after all your accommodation needs.